Online courses offer a world of training to update your job skills
By Edie Fossey
Keeping pace with the ever-changing landscape of technology isn’t only prudent, it’s a necessity. Luckily, never has learning new skills or strengthening existing ones been so accessible to so many. No matter the sphere – business, data science, finance, architecture, psychology – online training exists for most any skill.
Online training has been around since the late 1990s, but has seen a rapid increase in robustness due to ease of use and commercialization. The old method of distance learning or correspondence courses was replaced by television and radio courses as those technologies evolved. Now those have been replaced by online training, also known as MOOCs or “massive open online courses.” There are two types:
• “cMOOCs” have a feed of content, and online students connect to others using collaboration tools like blog posts, threaded discussions and online meetings to flesh out projects and further understanding. The content evolves and is targeted toward future learning. These are considered to be the more creative and dynamic learning method.
• “xMOOCs” are more traditional courses structured with a syllabus and recorded lectures and self-test problems. They are IT platforms where the instructor is the expert provider of knowledge and student interactions are usually limited to asking for assistance and advice. Major providers are nonprofit universities and for-profit companies. The field really started to take off in 2012.
The major players are Khan Academy and edX, along with Udacity and Coursera. There are many others – Udemy, Lynda.com, Academic Earth, Stanford Online, to name a few. Many are connected with nonprofit universities and can offer institutional credits, and most offer certificates of completion. In a lot of cases, the courses are offered for free. The sites make money through students paying fees for certificates or employers paying to recruit talented students or sponsor courses.
The choices are daunting. Are you looking for a degree? Do you want to expand your skills? Or maybe you want to launch into a new field. Let the short descriptions below help you determine your “course” of action.
edX.org, created by MIT and Harvard, is a nonprofit MOOC provider running its own open-source software. International in scope, it offers over 1,300 courses, most at university level, and has over 110 partners. It offers certificates of completion, and some courses are credit-eligible. Students view short videos interspersed with interactive learning exercises; online textbooks and discussion forums round out the courses. In some cases, online laboratories are incorporated into the course where appropriate.
Coursera.org is a venture-backed education-focused technology company founded by Stanford University professors. It partners with 149 universities and other organizations to offer online courses, specializations and degrees in a variety of subjects. “As of February 2017,” according to cardrates.com, there were “2,000 complete courses in more than 160 specialties.” The learning model is similar to edX with video lectures, reading materials and graded assignments.
KhanAcademy.org is a nonprofit educational organization created to provide free world-class education for anyone, anywhere. It positions itself as a supplement to in-class learning, a modern educational tool. It runs YouTube videos similar in style to a teacher with a blackboard and is narrated with additional content such as practice exercises accessed through a mobile site.
Udemy.com is an online learning platform aimed at professionals who want to add new skills and explore their passions. Unlike academic MOOC programs driven by traditional collegiate coursework, Udemy provides a platform for experts of any kind to create courses to offer to the public. The courses are not for college credit; they are taken to improve job skills. As of 2017, there are more than 45,000 courses.
Udacity.com is a for-profit educational organization that originally offered university-style courses but has evolved to offer vocational courses for professionals. The site partners with hiring companies that build courses in a forward thinking manner and train for the real-world jobs of tomorrow. Students acquire skills through a series of online courses and hands-on projects.
Lynda.com, an online education company offering courses in software, creative and business skills, is owned by LinkedIn, which was recently acquired by Microsoft. The site currently offers over 5,500 courses, and students subscribe monthly to access its video training library. Check with your local public library, as many subscribe to offer free access for their card holders.
OpenCulture.com brings together high-quality cultural and educational media for lifelong learning. Open Culture centralizes the content, but is not the builder or creator of the courses. It offers audio books, online courses, certificate courses and MOOCs, movies, language, textbooks and ebooks in a multitude of areas.
Academicearth.org is a curated collection of free online courses from universities worldwide to facilitate the global sharing of ideas.
Edie Fossey, a marketing graphics traffic manager, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.